Konstantin Simonov

Simonov through English Eyes

The Colonel's Son

Although he wasn't young, he was a soldier –
As steady under fire as any man;
Led on his sappers in their dangerous job
A field to clear of mines, a flood to span;

And when he died, it was before Berlin.
The final minefield was the fatal one.
He had no time to say goodbye to her
And never knew that he had got a son.

He was survived in Tambov by his widow
And in the regiment of engineers
He also left behind the one who'd loved him
Since 1941, that blackest year.

The one who sometimes wondered, without thinking,
What would become of her, after the War
But through the years of War she stayed beside him,
Gave all she had and would have given more.

And for herself asked nothing, never wanted
Some token of his love, some small desire,
But shielding him from bullets with her body,
She dragged him, wounded, from the field of fire.

And nursed him through the nights and lay beside him
And asked from him no promise, never tried
To raise the issue of divorce and marriage
Or even for some money if he died.

And yet it's true that she was not a beauty
Her figure nothing special, I confess,
That wasn't what he saw in her – remember
He'd never even seen her in a dress.

He saw her baggy-trousered, heavy booted,
Cap on her head, upon the roads of War,
Taking her first-aid bag where it was needed,
Her woman's voice drowned by the cannon's roar.

What did he see in her? Was it her kindness –
Her pity for the wounded? Or above
All that she showed she had a soldier's courage?
Or was it simply that she gave him love?

For certainly, with all her heart she loved him,
Although he didn't hide he had a wife.
What happened, happened. Nothing can be altered.
For him, she would have given up her life.
At home in Tambov now, the colonel's widow
Receives a colonel's pension since he died.
His eldest son is working and his daughter
A year or two ago, became a bride.

But somewhere now there also lives the woman
Who used to call herself his “wartime wife.”
Had nothing promised her, had nothing left her,
And all alone now leads a lonely life.

Not quite alone, she has their little boy:
He learns to read, he stumbles nursery verse.
She manages to clothe him; it's not easy
On just the basic wages of a nurse.

And sometimes now, she talks about his father:
How brave he was, how stubborn and how wise.
And yet he doesn't write his father's surname
Upon the school-books that his mother buys.

He has, of course, a sister and a brother,
But on his birthday, presents never come.
A pity that they don't have any contact.
At any rate, they don't insult his Mum.

Should she feel shame? What if she does feel guilty –
Feels somehow, some time, what she did was wrong.
But tell me this – what hypocrite would want it
That punishment should fall upon her son?

Let him have less embarrassment and gossip.
It's better for the child to be aware
His father died in battle; and his mother
Served at the front and was twice wounded there.

Above his little bed upon the wall
There hangs a picture from the final summer
The Oder crossing – and there stands his father
And at his father’sside, there stands his mother.

She's still remembers and she hasn't married.
She bears her load of grief from day to day,
A woman no one needs and no one cares for –
Pay homage to her if you go her way!